It all started with an idea. Our school wanted to bring more technology into the classroom. In order to help roll this out, our district created a 1:1 initiative called Connected for Learning, which would be managed by a specialist and a team of helpers. The twist? This team of helpers wouldn’t be made up of adults… they would be students. What started as an innovative idea would become The Royse City High School “Chrome Squad”.
Today, we have a full-fledged student internship program that gives students the chance to learn new skills, gain experience in technology, and keep our classrooms connected. Here’s how we did it, and how you can create a student internship like “The Chrome Squad” at your school, too.
Necessity is Indeed the Mother of Invention
At its inception, the Chrome Squad wasn’t part of a master plan to create an internship program for students, but a matter of necessity. We wanted to bring Chromebooks into our school, and put them in the hands of students and teachers in all of our classrooms, which would be a challenge. When our sponsor, Mr. Holt, was promoted to Innovative Learning Specialist for the high school in 2015, he was told by the district he would have two adults working under him to manage our brand-new 1:1 initiative: “Connected for Learning”. Turns out, they left out one subtle detail: these helpers would not be adults, they would be “young” adults. Instead of panicking, Mr. Holt chose to see “the glass half-full” and ended up with the innovative solution to put the power in the students’ hands by recruiting not just two, but an entire squad.
The first step to creating a student internship program was to get buy-in from all the stakeholders involved. We needed to show the school board that we could empower kids by giving them the opportunity to support teachers.
To achieve this, the district convened a special workshop where we asked the school board to step into the role of a student, while current students acted as digital tutors in a mock classroom. The results of our experiment showed the inherent value of empowering students: our digital tutors were able to teach the school board aspects of the technology in a professional and savvy way. After we had the school board’s support, we set up meetings with campus principals. During these meetings, Mr. Holt shared the impact student interns could have on the learning culture of the campus. If students were trained and ready to provide support, teachers’ anxiety over trying new technology would be much lower, and they would be willing to take bigger risks in what they did in the classroom. In turn, by setting the Chrome Squad up as an elite group that mediates between student and administrator, the internship program could become something that students aspire to be a part of. This would bring about a positive change in campus culture, because kids would want to prove themselves capable of such a responsible role.
With the support of the school board, administrative staff, and campus principals, Mr. Holt started the process of creating a group that would not only provide technical support, but provide training and resources for students and teachers alike.
The first step towards creating our internship program was deciding what kinds of students we wanted to recruit. After developing a long list of character traits and skills, we condensed the list to four essential values. These values did not put an emphasis on technology skills (counter to what one might expect). Instead, the values put an emphasis on leadership skills. Technology skills can be taught, but character traits can’t (or at least not as easily). Our Chrome Squad’s core values are:
Teachability - The desire to always want to know more and to be open-minded.
Respect - Respect for oneself and respect for others.
Integrity - Doing the right thing even when nobody's watching. This forges trust and honest communication.
Quality - In every project, product, and conversation, a commitment to quality is key. Also rolled into this quality is the ideals of creative and critical thinking and problem solving.
When creating your own internship program, the core values are ideally the core and starting point of your program. Beliefs and attributes can make or break a program, so choose traits that are appropriate for your program and what you aim to accomplish.
Our Chrome Squad’s selection process is one of the most important aspects of what makes us….well...us. It determines what kind of people are going to be involved in supporting staff and students alike. We have learned that in order to make a great impact, you must have great people.
When creating your own internship program, defining the specifics of your selection process is a key step. Our selection process starts with a recommendation. After that, applicants are vetted by a panel of teachers, and the applicant is interviewed. During the interview, nominees for the team are asked questions by our teacher sponsor, Mr. Holt, and a panel of Chrome Squad members. Many might assume that our questions pertain only to technology skills and knowledge; however, our questions are instead focused on giving the nominees a chance to demonstrate our core values. Potential questions that could be asked during the interview might be: “If you had unlimited resources, permission, and time, what would you create?” Another might be, “If you were given the opportunity to complete a community service project, what would you choose to do?”. When the final team of twenty or so students is selected, they then participate in a three-day summer training session. Both old and new members join this training, where we review common Chrome Squad activities, like setting up printers, handling damaged Chromebooks, checking Chromebooks in and out, and customer service procedures.
Additionally, we focus on what characterizes us as “the Chrome Squad” by revisiting our core values. An entire day of the summer training is devoted to choosing where each new recruit fits best within the teams: such as the blog team or video team. Summer training is also a way for the incoming members to get to know and bond with the old members in order to create a sense of cohesion and collaboration.
From there, we started with a collective problem: how do we bring technology into our classrooms in an organized and effective way? Core products proved to be the solution we needed. Core products reflect the purpose of the student internship; they should correlate with what the team hopes to accomplish. The first core product of the Chrome Squad is the technical support we provide teachers and students alike. This includes repairing Chromebooks, resource assistance, and fixing general issues such as wifi. Our second core product is providing quality training resources via our website and teacher badging program. For example, our goal of providing resources for teachers and students is achieved through “How-To Blogs” and “How-To Videos” created by the Chrome Squad.
Another important aspect to consider is: where will your interns work? Where you choose to house your internship is almost as important as assembling the team. The space is where the interns call home, and it serves as a workspace and storage area. The storage areas are vital because they create a more efficient work space. This allows for more organization and visual appeal which ultimately streamlines the whole process. The space should be colorful, centralized, and flexible in order to create an inviting atmosphere. The combination of flexible furniture, smart storage, and trailblazing technology should encourage a healthy work area for the interns and everyone who walks in. We call our space “the C4L Lounge” because it creates a more open feel as opposed to calling it an office. In the lounge, there are multiple computers, TV’s, charging stations, and extras like Google Home, and a Chromecast. When people walk in, the vibrant splash of colors from the C4L logo catches their eye, and they are greeted with tables, chairs, and comfortable couches where they can work. The tables and chairs aren’t just any regular school desks, they are bar-style chairs and tables that fit in with the open floor plan.
Ultimately, what started as a way to support more technology in the classroom, led to a student-run, state-of-the-art internship program. Since we started, we have expanded extensively and impacted other school districts as well. Nearly every week, we have other districts come and visit us to receive a run-down and advice on how they can create their own version of our Chrome Squad. We even have followers on Twitter (@Chrome_Squad) from around the world. Indeed, our unique, special, and humble Chrome Squad is a prime example of how a small idea can have a big impact. We hope that by sharing our story you can learn from our example and begin to create a student internship of your own. With the right planning, the right people, and perseverance, you can have an exceptional and efficient program that empowers students, while improving their 21st century skills, and expanding the school’s capacity to implement technology.
If you have any questions about starting a student internship like the Chrome Squad in your school, please feel free to tweet at us @Chrome_Squad or email us at C4L@rcisd.org.